Matthew 9: 35 – 10: 8
Jesus’ disciples were a motley crew, a bunch of folks with different personalities, perspectives, strengths and skills. They were ‘unequally gifted’ – as a friend used to say whenever anyone was less able at a job than someone else!
Now Jesus is preparing them to go on a mission. They have followed him, listened to his words, watched his work and now Jesus is preparing to send them on a mission to make God’s kingdom known by word and work (deed) just as Jesus has demonstrated.
The apprenticeship becomes a ‘practical’ and it’s over to them! And the big wide world starts to open up for the disciples, just as it does for us, when Jesus sends us out to join in with his mission.
By the time Matthew wrote his account of Jesus’ life (around 70AD) people were, of course, aware that Jesus was not with them ‘in the flesh’ any more, he had not ‘returned’ and his physical presence had been replaced by the empowering of the Holy Spirit, which fired them up and made them bold. Jesus’ mission had become their mission.
So Matthew tells us how the 12 apostles (those in Jesus’ ‘inner circle’) were instructed, sent out to take up the task from Jesus, a trial run, an apprenticeship test whilst the teacher could help the apprentices to reflect and refine their practice.
Those hearing Matthew’s gospel would be able to envisage themselves in the same position as the disciples. Perhaps their own experiences and mission could be facilitated and inspired as they heard Jesus’ preparatory instruction.
Matthew reports that Jesus looked at the crowds and felt compassion for them – they were ‘straying’ and Jesus was grieved. The people seemed to have no direction, no strong spiritual leadership and care. They were a people harassed and helpless.
Several Old Testament passages spoke about sheep without a shepherd. This usually referred to times when Israel’s spiritual leaders hadn’t given the guidance they should. And that resonates with what seems to be happening here as a deep gulf in outlook is opening up between Jesus and his way and the scribes and Pharisees and their ways. Jesus feels that, with the current incumbents at the helm, the people will never receive his kingdom message.
Jesus moves to another analogy, the harvest, to show that there’s plenty of good fruit to gather, and it’s rewarding work that needs to be done. So, Jesus needs his own team on the job, people fit for a new kind of work. This mission is to the Jewish community for now, the time for wider international mission will come later.
And so, the ‘fishing for people’ begins. The twelve are commissioned and sent out to perform a responsible ministry of care and guidance. And they are to do it with Jesus’ authority, which he passes on. Like Jesus, they too will heal and overcome evil, they are to use their gifts and skills to expand the scope of the work that Jesus himself is doing. These 12 will become part of Jesus’ mission. Here they are referred to as apostles, a Hebrew word meaning ‘messenger of a special kind’, agents commissioned and trusted by a senior, more powerful person, and sent to carry out the master’s important business. This will require wisdom, responsibility and initiative and a loyalty to the master’s policies, procedures and pattern.
Matthew has recorded what the apostles are instructed to do in detail, presumably because the instructions were as relevant to the emerging church of his time as they were to the apostles. And they are no less relevant now.
Our mission follows on from the apostles’ mission. The basis on which the 12 were sent out remains the basis for all our Christian work, our pastoral care, our community engagement, our mission and our leadership. We work for our Master, Jesus, to bring about the kingdom of God ‘on earth as it is in heaven’. We are to put this ahead of our own preferences as we are obedient to Jesus ‘sending’.
And who are we being sent out to care for and help? Jesus refers to the ‘lost sheep’ (v 6). Remember the parable of the lost sheep? The good shepherd leaves the 99 (who he loves dearly, but knows are safe) to rescue the 1 that’s in danger, the one in most need of help at that moment.
So, like Jesus’ heart, our hearts should be filled with compassion for our brothers and sisters who are in most need of help in our time, the ones who are in danger from unjustified prejudice, oppression, excessive violence and force, with or without justification. People the world over are disadvantaged and suffering through no fault of their own. There are people whose voice is not heard, or overlooked. People who have tried democratic routes and not been listened to. Jesus’ mission was to care for, to heal and to protect the ones hurting most, the ones who had been overlooked at best – persecuted and murdered at worst and to drive out the evil from the world.
Our commission is the same. We have received freely from God, so we must give freely to the world the God-given ‘gifts’ and advantages we have. We who are relatively ‘privileged’ have a responsibility to use it to protect and defend those less privileged.
I wonder how you might use your Jesus-given commission and your privilege in these days when so many of our worldwide brothers and sisters are in danger, for so many reasons – climate change, greed, institutional and individual racism, homophobia, transphobia and misogyny, to name a few.
In Jesus, the kingdom of heaven has come near with compassion for the harassed and helpless . We cannot ignore it and we cannot remain the same once we have heard, seen, and experienced God and God’s originating intention for a world in love with ‘the other’ and at one with itself.
How can the world be ‘whole’, how can we be ‘whole’ when so many are ‘broken’ by the grief of oppression and violence? How can we be truly happy, when so many are hurting and in danger?
The apostle Paul summarises the good news for the human race in his letter to the new church in Galatia (Galatians 3:28) “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”. One human race – equally made in God’s image, each of us lovely in the eyes of God who made us to blossom and flourish!
Our co-mission (working with the holy Spirit) is to play our part in proclaiming the good news, Jesus’ simple gospel, the call to stand with the poor, share fellowship with those our world considers worthless, to usher in a topsy-turvy kingdom, where the last are first and the first are last, where one sheep matters because, whilst we are safe, the one is in danger.
Lord God, we are your apprentices,
help us to keep learning from you as we follow your example
and respond to your call. Amen